Pioneering Palestinian Sanaa recognised with Lancaster Alumni Award

13 December 2018 09:00
Lancaster University Alumni Award winner Sanaa Alsarghali
Lancaster University Alumni Award winner Sanaa Alsarghali

A Lancaster University graduate who is leading the way in incorporating women’s rights in Palestinian constitutional life has been recognised with an Alumni Award.

Dr Sanaa Alsarghali became the first Palestinian to be awarded a PhD in Constitutional Law from a UK university when she graduated in 2016, and is the only female assistant professor at An-Najah University Law School. She collected the award at December’s graduation ceremonies.

“I feel extremely privileged to receive this award. I know I am still very young for all this – I have read about the people who have received it before, and they have long working experience. For my work to be recognized at this early stage is truly an honour and a huge responsibility,” said Sanaa, who was awarded a full scholarship at Lancaster from An-Najah in order to participate in the constitution-building process in Palestine after her return.

“I think this move shows Lancaster is a truly inspirational institution, to see them acknowledging young talents, new graduates, and females who have made an impact. The award makes me feel I am on the right track; it makes me feel that having an impact on my students at An-Najah University, and changing my local community, is really important.

“Sometimes we believe that we should make a huge impact on a bigger scale, but making an impact on a smaller scale matters. I feel very proud and that my work is being recognised - it gives me motivation to keep going.”

Sanaa, whose PhD thesis focused on the gaps within the Palestinian Basic Law, leading her to write about how the future constitution of Palestine should look, is the only female doctor teaching law at An-Najah University Law School, in the West Bank.  She has been working there to produce educational constitutional movies and organise international constitutional conferences to bring scholars to Palestine.

She has been deeply involved with Palestinian NGOs, giving women’s perspectives of how the future constitution should be, and is the chair of the TAM-Women NGO, the youngest chair in the organisation’s history.

“It is a huge responsibility on one hand, but on the other hand it is really exciting, because you can see that you are making a difference,” Sanaa said.

“When I came back, one of the things I wanted to do was to organise the first international constitutional law conference in Palestine at An-Najah. I felt that was a success, because we brought in international and national scholars.

“The second conference was even more successful, because it was only targeting students, and there was a huge discussion between scholars from abroad at a national level and the students I had taught.

“I was able to see those students grow and take part in a discussion about constitution building in Palestine – that was very rewarding, it was a true team effort all the way.”

Sanaa has been working with the NGOs to have the provisional 2016 constitution adapted to better reflect the rights of women; increasing awareness across wider society, as well as among her students, of such issues; and highlighting key issues affecting women in Palestine.

She said: “I’m working with different NGOs to put women’s perspectives on the constitutional draft from 2016. We looked at the draft, and we were not very satisfied – there was lack of women in the drafting committee, and the justification was there were not enough qualified women to help.

 “With TAM and other NGOs, we have worked on certain laws that have been affecting women in Palestine and have not been very fair towards them; we worked on suspending those laws. We don’t have an active parliament at the moment, so we wanted to freeze them until a parliament is in action again. TAM’s major contribution was suspending Article (99) of the panel code by a presidential decree until an active parliament is in session, which was part of women’s court project.

“We have tried to empower women who have been blackmailed through social media, and who feel scared to report it. We are running legal awareness campaigns to educate women of their rights – and I hope we are succeeding. I was deeply proud to be part of TAM’s board and thanks to the amazing executive director we managed secure the empowerment of women through economic projects that left them with solid income from their own work’’

“I feel privileged to be involved with TAM and An-Najah. One of the most important joint-efforts with TAM is the constitutional campaign, and the second international constitutional conference TAM sponsored at An-Najah, focusing on the role of women in parliament. We didn’t have enough women in the last parliament, and we are hoping that if new elections happen, then more women can come forward.”

Sanaa’s book on The Palestinian Political System in Arabic is due to be published in 2019, and she is aiming to be the first associate professor at An-Najah Law School by 2019.

When asked about her dream, she said: ‘’On an academic level, I hope to be an active tool in the educational process on the Palestinian students in constitutional law.”

She added, laughing: “On a personal level, I’ve always dreamt to a Palestinian ambassador one day.”

Sanaa concluded: “I want to thank Lancaster for giving me the platform to talk about our work in Palestine. I am proud to call Lancaster my second home.

“I am deeply thankful to An-Najah University and His Excellency, the Palestinian Prime Minister Dr Rami Hamdallh, the president of An-Najah who supported and approved my PhD scholarship to Lancaster, and who is also a Lancaster alumnus. Many people have been kind to me during my journey. I deeply thank them all.”

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